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What do the Environment Agency do during an incident?

Prior to Covid-19 community groups could visit Environment Agency incident rooms to find out what they do during incidents. To make the information that was shared during these visits accessible to all community groups and members of the public the Environment Agency have produced videos to cover the same information.

What do the Environment Agency do during an incident?

On this page you can watch videos produced by the Environment Agency to explain what they do during an incident. The videos are grouped into sections with short written overviews and additional context. You can watch videos in any order but for the best understanding watch each video in order – total viewing time of all 9 videos is 25 minutes. The videos have been produced by the Cumbria and Lancashire area but the roles follow the same structure across the country with only slight regional variations, so they are relevant to anyone who lives in England.

The incident roles at the Environment Agency are grouped into ‘cells’. These cells are the teams that are involved in the incident, with each cell have a specific responsibility during an incident.

Incident Response at the Environment Agency

The Environment Agency is a category 1 responder for environmental and flooding incidents across England. This means that they are at the core of emergency response alongside the emergency services and local authorities.

The Environment Agency respond to many different types of environmental incidents including flooding, pollution, business continuity incidents (Covid-19 and EU Exit), nuclear, and marine incidents.

Members of staff at the Environment Agency choose to take part in incident response roles in addition to their normal day jobs. These can either be ‘duty roles’ (where they are on call 24/7 for one week every 8 weeks) or ‘incident activated’ (where they only carry out their role during an active incident).

At the Environment Agency a team called the ‘Area Incident Team’ are responsible for the training and coordination of incident roles. The roles are split into different teams in an incident which are named ‘cells’. The first video talks through the role of the Area Incident Team in a live incident and the responsibility of each cell.

This video is approximately 2.5 minutes in length.

Who is in charge?

For operational purposes the Environment Agency splits the country into ‘areas’. For the North West, ‘Cumbria and Lancashire’ is one Environment Agency area and ‘Greater Manchester, Merseyside and Cheshire’ is a different area.

There are two important incident roles involved in managing the incident response in an area.

The Area Base Controller (ABC) is responsible for the Environment Agency’s tactical response (planning and overseeing direct on the ground actions) to incidents for an area. The ABC reports to the Area Duty Manager. Watch the video below to find out more about the ABC role.

This video is approximately 2.5 minutes in length.

The Area Duty Manager (ADM) is responsible for the Environment Agency’s strategic response to incidents. The ADM is accountable for and in command of the area’s response and resources to the incident. Watch the video below to find out more about this role. This video is around 2 minutes in length.

During a large incident each cell is led by a cell lead who is responsible for activities within the cell. The cell lead then reports to the ABC. This structure means that the ABC does not become overwhelmed by managing too many staff at once.

What happens during a flood?

There are three main roles involved in flood forecasting.

The Environment Agency and the Met Office work in partnership to form the ‘Flood Forecasting Centre’. This centre is responsible for issuing a 5-day forecast for flood risk for England. You can view this information on the Check for Flooding website – Check for flooding – GOV.UK (

Local flood forecasting centres are made up of Monitoring and Forecasting Duty Officers who are responsible for advising on the 5-day flood forecast in their area. These Monitoring and Forecasting Duty Officers then work with Flood Warning Duty Officers to advise on location specific flood forecasts.

Flood Warning Duty Officers take the decision about when to issue flood warnings and flood alerts. They have admin support from the Assistant Flood Warning Duty Officers to make sure the messages reach members of the public and partners.

This video includes all three roles mentioned above and is 5 minutes in duration.

What happens during a pollution incident?

In addition to flooding incidents the Environment Agency also respond to pollution incidents (as well as being ready to respond to rarer incidents e.g. marine, nuclear, business continuity).

There are two main technical roles involved in responding to pollution incidents – the Environment Management Duty Officer (EMDO) and the Environment Management Site Controller (EMSC).

The EMDO is an office based role that assesses reports of pollution, working closely with the EMSC who analyses the situation on site. The EMDO then works with partners and other incident staff to ensure the pollution is dealt with appropriately (e.g. finding and cutting off the source of the pollution, setting up booms etc.).

Pollution incidents (e.g. fuel spills, waste fires, sewage in the stream etc.) can be reported via our incident hotline: 0800 80 70 60.

Watch the video below to find out more about the EMDO role. This video is approximately 2 minutes in length.

What happens on the ground?

During an incident Environment Agency staff visit communities on the ground to offer support, guidance, and updates on the situation. These staff also feed back any information from community members and any other evidence they gather from the ground to help office staff gain a better understanding of the situation.

Watch the video below to find out more about the Environment Agency’s on the ground response. This video is approximately 3 minutes in length.

In addition to the Community Information Officer role other operational staff visit sites on the ground to clear debris screens and operate flood assets such as pumps and flood basins. These staff are coordinated by technical office-based roles in the Operations Cell.

Who organises incident staff?

To ensure that there are enough staff to fill the required incident roles the Logistics Cell works to fill rosters for the area. Watch the video below to find out more about the Logistics Cell. This video is approximately 3 minutes in length.

How does the Environment Agency work with partner organisations during an incident?

When a large incident occurs multi-agency tactical command centres are set up – often at police headquarters or fire stations. The centres are attended by an Environment Agency representative as well as all other emergency responders involved in the incident e.g. police, fire and ambulance services, local authorities etc. This allows emergency services to have up to date information and ensure that the response to the incident is coordinated between all relevant incident response organisations.

Watch the video below to find out more about the Tactical Liaison Officer role. This video is approximately 2 minutes in length.

How does the Environment Agency communicate messages to partners and the public?

To ensure up to date messages reach members of the public and partners the Communications and Engagement Cell post updates on social media, briefs MPs and carry out media interviews.

Watch the video below to find out more about the Communication and Engagement Cell. This video is approximately 2.5 minutes in length.

Where do you work during an incident?

Prior to Covid-19 all office-based incident response roles were carried out in area incident rooms. These are office rooms with a dedicated space for each incident role. Following the pandemic, incident response has become more flexible with desk-based response being carried out remotely or when required, collaborative in incident rooms.

Hopefully the videos and information have given you an insight into the Environment Agency’s incident response. For further information please visit the links below:

Check your flood risk and sign up for flood warnings – Check the long term flood risk for an area in England – GOV.UK (

Check for flooding website: Check for flooding – GOV.UK (

Environment Agency incident hotline to report pollution and watercourse blockages – 0800 80 70 60

Environment Agency enquiries – 03708 506 506 or